Much has been made of Mitt Romney's robotic demeanor, but in a phone interview with Peggy Noonan on Thursday there was a brief sign that Romney has been experimenting with his emotion chip. When asked if the "brainwashing" gaffe that crippled his father George Romney's 1968 presidential campaign (which is discussed in New York's recent cover story) makes him more cautious about what he says on the campaign trail, Romney responded, "I don't think my father's comment figures into my thinking at all." Per The Wall Street Journal:
It's his own mistakes "that make me want to kick myself in the seat of my pants," that "cause me to try and be a little more careful in what I say ... I've had a couple of those during the campaign, which have haunted me a little bit, but I'm sure before this is over will haunt me a lot."
Specifically, he regrets declaring, "I like to be able to fire people." As Romney has explained before, he was talking about market competition, not gleefully firing underlings. But Romney says today's media puts candidates in a Catch 22:
"I have to think not only about what I say in a full sentence but what I say in a phrase." In the current media environment, "you will be taken out of context, you'll be clipped, and you'll be battered with things you said." He says it is interesting that "the media always says, 'Gosh, we just want you to be spontaneous,' but at the same time if you say anything in the wrong order, you're gonna be sorry!"
It's an unusually candid moment from Romney. Few of us possess the rhetorical gifts of President Obama, and it's hard not to feel sympathy for someone whose every slip of the tongue becomes a headline. Yet, Romney quickly switches back to sounding like an alien who learned about humans from watching Leave it to Beaver reruns. Here's Romney on whether or not he enjoys the game of politics:
I like competition, and I think the game is like a sport for old guys. I mean, you know, I can't compete in competitive sports very well, but I can compete in politics, and there's the — what was the old ABC 'Wide World of Sports' slogan? 'The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.' The only difference is victory is still a thrill, but I don't feel agony in loss.
Romney also reveals that he's been keeping a campaign journal on his iPad:
He used to speak his entries, but now he types them on an attached keyboard. "I've kept up pretty well, actually." He writes every two or three days, so that 10 years from now he can "remember what it was like," but also to capture "the feelings—the ups the downs, the people I meet and the sense I have about what's going to happen. It's kind of fun to go back and read, as Ann and I do from time to time."
He remarks, "Now this is going to make my iPad a subject of potential theft!" — which is not how most of the population would express concerns about someone swiping their iPad.
As he inches his way closer to dropping "presumptive" from the "Republican nominee" title, it doesn't seem like Romney is making much progress in his effort to strike a balance between socially awkward and "maniac on ecstasy." But, even if he doesn't manage to connect with voters in November, you don't have to worry about ol' Mitt growing a beard and holing up at Columbia, Al Gore–style. Here, Noonan asks a hard-hitting question about the last time he woke up unhappy:
He says he doesn't recall. Then: "Sometimes you're disappointed, but it's mostly disappointment with myself that causes me to be most concerned. This for me is not my life, meaning I don't have to win an election to feel good about myself." He's achieved success in business "beyond my wildest dreams." He's "hoping to make a contribution and go to Washington and go home when it's over ... Who I am has long ago been determined by my relationship with the people I love, and with my success in my professional career."